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The role of SDN in intent-based networking

The future of networking

Software-defined networking (SDN) is expected to play a role in the enablement of intent-based networking systems (IBNS), which promise to give network administrators greater control over networks through a mix of automation and machine learning. While SDN and intent-based networking are often treated as one and the same, they are distinct concepts with similar goals in mind. As service providers virtualize their networks with SDN, many looking to leverage it as a way to advance IBNS.


SDN emerged several years ago as an architecture capable of abstracting lower level functions and moving them to a normalized control plane. Since its inception, SDN has been applied to software-defined wide-area networks (SD-WAN) as a way to connect and secure various branch offices. With SDN, network administrators can determine how they want a network to behave, while substituting proprietary hardware with software. For example, if a packet of data is forwarded to a particular switch, pre-selected policies chosen by the network administrator can automatically determine where to forward the packet.

Intent-based networking is similar to SDN in that it focuses on carrying out various network policies through automation. Intent-based networking differs from SDN in that it is more concerned with building and operating networks than it is with virtualization. According to research firm Gartner, IBNS incorporate four features: translation and validation, automated implementation, awareness of network state, and assurance and dynamic optimization/remediation. Intent-based networking software can be implemented on both SDN based or non-SDN based architecture. 

Where SDN and IBNS meet

SDN and intent-based networking intersect when implementing an IBNS involves using a SDN controller to ensure a network behaves as an operator intends. Various intent-based networking models involve automating various tasks, such as pinpointing and addressing anomalies in network traffic, with open APIs introduced by SDN. At the same time, since intent-based networking is portable, apps designed for a particular SDN environment can be moved to a different SDN environment, giving app developers more flexibility in return.


Using SDN in IBMS is still a developing idea with wrinkles to iron out. A security drawback of introducing a SDN controller is that it immediately gives hackers a target to seize upon. Some SDN controllers still need to incorporate intent-based networking awareness too. Additionally, not all organizations are prepared to adopt a technical intent-based networking approach involving SDN to address more basic networking challenges.


Nathan Cranford
Nathan Cranford
Nathan Cranford joined RCR Wireless News as a Technology Writer in 2017. Prior to his current position, he served as a content producer for GateHouse Media, and as a freelance science and tech reporter. His work has been published by a myriad of news outlets, including COEUS Magazine, dailyRx News, The Oklahoma Daily, Texas Writers Journal and VETTA Magazine. Nathan earned a bachelor’s from the University of Oklahoma in 2013. He lives in Austin, Texas.

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